U.S. Naval Academy

Retired Lt. Cmdr. Wesley A. Brown didn't just happen to become the first black graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy in 1949 — his determination to do so meant he had to endure well-documented racial taunts and merciless hazing that had caused the African Americans who came before him to resign in order to escape the hostile climate. The military trailblazer died this week at age 85, the Washington Post reports:

According to the 2005 book “Breaking the Color Barrier” by naval historian Robert J. Schneller Jr., Cmdr. Brown was the victim of a hazing campaign orchestrated by Southern upperclassmen who sought his dismissal.

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Upon enrolling in 1945, he endured racial epithets and ostracism from his classmates. A group of upperclassmen gave him so many demerits during his first term — mostly for fabricated infractions or petty offenses — that he was threatened with expulsion.

“I get asked that question often, ‘Did you ever think about quitting?’ ” Cmdr. Brown once said in an interview. “And I say, ‘Every single day.’ ”

In October 1945, a front page story in The Washington Post announced that Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. (D-N.Y.) had written a letter to then-Navy Secretary James Forrestal stating that there was a “concerted effort” at the Academy to oust Cmdr. Brown.

Read more at the Washington Post.